The impact of a former NBA referee betting on games he officiated may trickle down to officials at all levels.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy is serving 15 months in federal prison for betting on games he officiated, but the impact of his actions may keep trickling down.
"I spent July 27-29 at the National Association of Sports Officials Summit in Cleveland and heard tales of youth soccer officials being criticized by parents asking if they were 'on the take,' " Greg Johnson, associate director of The NCAA News and Champion magazine, wrote on the NCAA's official blog site (www.doubleazone.com).
While such accusations at the youth level may seem ridiculous, they serve as a reminder of how quickly perspective can be lost. Although Donaghy is not the first professional sports official to be caught betting on games he was calling - charges of game fixing in Major League Baseball date back to at least the 1880s, and the NBA suspended a ref for gambling on games in the 1950s - the idea that countless officials at any level are cheating is "preposterous," according to Alan Goldberger, a baseball, basketball and football official for 30 years. "There is a segment of the population that has, for years, entertained the theory that everything is fixed," says the sports law attorney at the Clifton, N.J.-based firm Goldberger & Goldberger. "But they're talking about men and women who have dedicated their careers to one thing: getting the call right."
As Johnson noted in his blog, sports officials at every level are now trying to move forward with improved background checks and a greater awareness of each other's actions. But those silver linings haven't stopped 65 percent of participants in a recent NCAA online poll from indicating that the scandal will impact the way they see officials in the future. "Tim has forever compromised the way people look at sports and officiating," says Larnell McMorris, spokesperson for the National Basketball Referees Association.
Goldberger agrees, and he thinks that officials at all levels may indefinitely suffer the repercussions of Donaghy's betrayal of trust and objectivity. But he also hopes that athletic directors, recreation administrators and other people who contract with officials see this modern-day betting scandal as an isolated incident, as NBA commissioner David Stern has portrayed it.
Donaghy told U.S. District Judge Carol Amon during his sentencing in late July that he "brought shame" on himself, his family and the profession. No one's arguing that. But just how clean the profession was to begin with remains fodder for blogosphere debate. As one Double-A zone commenter put it: "I think this will become a bigger deal once a second ref is caught and a trend appears."